Vous êtes sur la page 1sur 19

ess

Pr
n
to
ng
hi
as
W
of
ty
r si
ve
ni
U
JOHN
U
ni

O K A DA
ve
rsi
ty
of
W

The Life & R ediscover ed Wor k


as

of the Author of No-No Boy


hi
ng
to

EDI T ED BY
n

FR A NK A BE , GR EG ROBIN SON ,
Pr

A ND FLOY D C HEU N G
e
ss

University of Washington Pr ess


Seattle
John Okada was supported by a grant from the Scott and Laurie Oki Endowed
Fund for publications in Asian American Studies.

Copyright © 2018 by Frank Abe, Greg Robinson, and Floyd Cheung


Printed and bound in the United States of America
22 21 20 19 18  5 4 3 2 1
Design by Katrina Noble
Composed in Arno Pro, typeface designed by Robert Slimbach
U

Cover photograph: Okada enrolled at Teachers College in New York City to get a master’s
ni

degree to teach English. It was here he reportedly sketched the first scenes for No-No Boy
in early 1949. (Yoshito Okada family)
ve

Frontispiece: Okada mugged for the camera in spring 1949, around the time he was ready
to graduate from Teacher’s College. (Yoshito Okada family)
r

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any
si

form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any


information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
ty

Univer sit y of Washington Pr ess


www.washington.edu/uwpress
of

Libr ary of Congr ess Cata loging-in-Publication Data


W

Names: Abe, Frank editor. | Robinson, Greg, 1966– editor. | Cheung, Floyd, 1969– editor. |
Okada, John. Works. Selections.
as

Title: John Okada : the life and rediscovered work of the author of No-no boy / edited by
Frank Abe, Greg Robinson, and Floyd Cheung.
Description: Seattle : University of Washington Press, 2018. | Includes bibliographical
hi

­references and index. |


Identifiers: LCCN 2018003963 (print) | LCCN 2018011915 (ebook) | ISBN 9780295743530
ng

(ebook) | ISBN 9780295743523 (hardcover : alk. paper) | ISBN 9780295743516 (pbk. :


alk. paper)
Subjects:  LCSH: Okada, John—Criticism and interpretation.
to

Classification: LCC PS3565.K33 (ebook) | LCC PS3565.K33 Z69 2018 (print) |


ddC 813/.54—dc23
n

LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2018003963


Pr

“I Must Be Strong”; “When in Japan: A Comedy in One Act”; “What Can I Do?”; “Without
Solace”; “Skipping Millions”; “The Silver Lunchbox”; and “Here’s Proof!” copyright ©
e

Dorothea Okada and Matthew Okada. Reprinted by permission.


ss

“The High Cost of Proposals and Presentations” was originally published in Armed Forces
Management (Ziff-Davis, December 1961). “The Technocrats of Industry” was originally
published in Armed Forces Management (Ziff-Davis, March 1962). Copyright © Ziff-Davis.
Reprinted by permission.
“Nightsong in Asian America” copyright 1972, 1974 by Lawson Fusao Inada. Originally
published in Yardbird Reader, vol. 3 (Berkeley, CA: Yardbird Publishing Cooperative,
1974). Reprinted by permission.
ess
Pr
n
to
ng
hi
For Dorothea and Matthew
as
W
of
ty
r si
ve
ni
U
ess
Pr
n
to
ng
hi
as
W
of
ty
r si
ve
ni
U
U
ni

America is a country which has made mistakes and will make


more but, at the same time, it is a country which is striving
ve

constantly to rectify the conditions which breed those mistakes.


r

John Ok ada
si

letter to Meredith Weatherby


ty

February 14, 1956


of
W
as
hi
ng
to
n
Pr
e ss
ess
Pr
n
to
ng
hi
as
W
of
ty
r si
ve
ni
U
U
ni

Contents
ve
rsi

Introduction: Saying “No! No!” to the Community Narrative  3


Fr ank Abe
ty

A Note on the Texts  11


of

THE LIFE OF JOHN OK ADA


W

“An Urgency to Write”  15


Fr ank Abe
as

UNKNOWN WORKS BY JOHN OK ADA 


hi

I Must Be Strong  119


ng

When in Japan: a comedy in one act  121


to

What Can I Do?  142


n

Without Solace  149


Pr

Skipping Millions  158


e

The Silver Lunchbox   165


ss

Here’s Proof!   179

The High Cost of Proposals and Presentations   198

The Technocrats of Industry  204


ESSAYS ON JOHN OK ADA AND HIS WRITINGS
John Okada’s Rediscovered Writings: Experiments in Form
and Approaches to the Absurd  213
Floyd Cheung

A Seed in a Devastated Landscape: John Okada and Midcentury


Japanese American Literature  237
U

Gr eg Robinson
ni

Questioning No-No Boy: Text, Contexts, and Subtexts  251


Stephen H. Sumida
ve

False Constructions of Loyalty: The Real Resistance


r

against Incarceration  277


si

Martha Nak agawa


ty

Contesting Japanese American Identity: A Literature Review


of No-No Boy 284
of

Jeffr ey T. Ya mashita
W

Republishing and Teaching No-No Boy 295


Shaw n Wong
as

Nightsong in Asian America  302


Lawson Fusao Inada
hi
ng

Afterword 305
Fr ank Abe
to

Acknowledgments 307
n

Notes 309
Pr

Bibliography 345
List of Contributors  355
e

Index 357
ss
ess
Pr
n
to
ng
hi
John Ok ada
as
W
of
ty
r si
ve
ni
U
ess
Pr
n
to
ng
hi
as
W
of
ty
r si
ve
ni
U
U

Introduction
ni
ve

Saying “No! No!” to the Community Narrative


r si

Fr ank Abe
ty
of

This book seeks to r ecover the liter ary vision of John


W

Okada, a pioneering American novelist whose unpublished work was


lost to an early death and a widow’s grief. Okada was a Nisei, second-
as

generation Japanese American—the child of immigrants—and two pas-


sages of writing bookend his pursuit of what he and his peers envisioned
hi

as “the Great Nisei Novel.”1 The first he composed as a college freshman in


ng

Seattle the night after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Okada was hearing fran-
tic reports of the FBI yanking community leaders from distraught wives
to

and crying children on suspicion of collusion with the enemy, and his
immediate instinct was to write about it: “On the evening of December 7,
n

1941, after there was no doubt as to the significance of the dastardly move
Pr

taken by the Japanese nation, I sat in my room and thought of the situation
in which I, as well as others like me, had been placed by this unforeseen
e

attack on the United States. I attempted to put down my thoughts on paper


ss

for a home theme, but my mind was in such a state of confusion and entan-
glement that I was unable to produce an organized and well-unified paper.”2
He tried his hand instead with poetry. The result, “still unorganized
and disunified,” is the first surviving piece of creative writing we have by
John Okada (reprinted here as “I Must Be Strong”). In it, he confronts the

3
shock of others suddenly seeing him only for his race, and he vows, “I
know they will, and I must be strong.”3
Fast-forward to 1957. Now in Detroit with a family of his own, the
thirty-four-year-old Okada wrote with the authority of experience.
“DECEMBER THE SEVENTH of the year 1941 was the day when the
Japanese bombs fell on Pearl Harbor. As of that moment, the Japanese in
the United States became, by virtue of their ineradicable brownness and
U

the slant eyes which, upon close inspection, will seldom appear slanty,
ni

animals of a different breed. The moment the impact of the words solemnly
being transmitted over the several million radios of the nation struck
ve

home, everything Japanese and everyone Japanese became despicable.”4


r

By then, Okada had seen how guilt by association led to betrayal by


si

the federal government, the eviction of 110,000 Americans of Japanese


ty

ancestry from their homes on the West Coast, and their four-year incar-
ceration in American concentration camps—a mass violation of civil
of

protections under the Constitution. Okada himself stayed strong: he


left camp early for college, then joined the Military Intelligence Service
W

and flew twenty-four reconnaissance missions in a B-24 over the Japanese


coastline. Immediately after the war he earned degrees in English and
as

librarianship, and wrote some short fiction.


From these experiences, John Okada created the voice of No-No Boy.
hi

Brought out in a tiny edition by a small-scale publisher of works on Asia,


ng

it received little attention at the time. Yet No-No Boy emerged after its
author’s premature death to become a much-studied and celebrated work
to

of American literature.
n

The Writer as R esister


Pr

The power of No-No Boy derives from its portrait of the unexpressed rage
e

of the Nisei at their unjust imprisonment, which collectively disinherited


ss

them as a generation through the combined losses of homes, farms, and


businesses. After having been “gone four years, two in camp and two in
prison,” draft resister Ichiro Yamada returns to Seattle to find his com-
munity fragmented and its people divided against one another by the

4 Fr ank A be
nation’s wartime demand for proof of loyalty. Parents mourn sons lost in
battle; veterans return maimed and succumb to their wounds; a woman
abandoned by her soldier husband finds comfort in Ichiro’s arms; his
mother goes mad when forced to admit that Japan lost the war.
When published in 1957, everything about this story challenged the
overall amnesia about the camps and the prevailing values of Okada’s own
community, which mostly wanted to forget and fit in. The Nisei adopted
U

the guise of “Quiet Americans,” a public face codified by the Japanese


ni

American Citizens League (JACL), a social and political federation of


Nisei professionals led just before the war by president Saburo Kido and
ve

national secretary Mike Masaoka. After Pearl Harbor, the JACL fingered
r

Issei leaders for arrest, waived the Nisei right to protest eviction, and coop-
si

erated in the community’s removal and incarceration—all as proof of


ty

­loyalty to the government.5 The organization did support select legal chal-
lenges, but the overriding JACL response to mass incarceration could be
of

captured in two phrases: shikataganai, Japanese for “it can’t be helped”—


passive resignation in the face of injustice; and go for broke, Hawaiian
W

pidgin for “shoot the works, give 110 percent”—patriotic self-sacrifice


and the spilling of one’s blood to prove one’s loyalty. And when several
as

hundred incarcerees defined as loyal by the government contested their


incarceration in 1944 by refusing to be drafted from camp, the JACL col-
hi

laborated with the government to crack down on dissent.


ng

Okada never mentions the JACL by name, the word resistance never
appears in his text, and there’s no evidence he consciously saw his work
to

as an act of rebellion—yet he wrote a novel that accurately captures the


bitter divisions within his community triggered by the JACL’s collabo-
n

ration with the government. He subverted the JACL’s jingoistic ideal of


Pr

“Better Americans in a Greater America” by featuring a pariah as his pro-


tagonist, a draft resister who served two years in prison.
e

Two definitions are essential here. “No-no boys” were the twelve thou-
ss

sand young men who answered “no” to two questions on an otherwise


procedural 1943 government questionnaire administered in the camps.
Question 27 asked, “Are you willing to serve in the armed forces of the
United States on combat duty, wherever ordered?” Answering “yes” could

Introduction 5
be taken as an offer to volunteer. Number 28 asked a compound question:
“Will you swear unqualified allegiance to the United States of America
and faithfully defend the United States from any and all attack by foreign
or domestic forces, and forswear any form of allegiance or obedience to
the Japanese Emperor, or any other foreign government, power, or organi-
zation?” For the Issei, barred by racial laws from naturalized US citizenship,
to answer “yes” to the question as a whole would mean renouncing the only
U

citizenship they had and render them stateless persons; for a Nisei to
ni

answer “yes,” to renounce an allegiance one never had, could be taken as


an admission of having at one time or another actually harbored a loyalty
ve

to Japan. Both were viewed as trick questions by most. No one, not even
r

the camp administrators, fully understood the consequences of a “yes” or


si

“no” answer to what became known as the loyalty oath. The government
ty

removed those who answered “no” and sent them to the Tule Lake Segrega-
tion Center on the California-Oregon border, a move backed by JACL.
of

“Draft resisters” were the roughly 315 young men who in general
answered “yes” or a qualified “yes” to the questionnaire but who, a year
W

later in 1944, were drafted from inside camp. They refused to report for
their pre-induction physical exams until their rights were first restored
as

and their families freed to return home. At the camp at Heart Mountain,
Wyoming, this resistance became organized as the Fair Play Committee,
hi

whose members broke the law to bring a test case into federal court in a
ng

last-ditch attempt to challenge the constitutionality of the eviction and


their continued confinement. In every case, except ironically at Tule
to

Lake, the courts refused to hear their constitutional argument and con-
victed them. This group served an average of two years in federal prison,
n

and this group included Ichiro.


Pr

The title of Okada’s novel, the way Ichiro is addressed, and Ichiro’s own
statements all foster the misperception that Ichiro was part of the “no-no”
e

group. The author himself, whether as an artistic choice or in error, twice


ss

conflates “no-no boys” and draft resisters in his text. Nowhere in the novel,
however, does Okada mention the questionnaire, nor say how Ichiro
answered it; he also never suggests that Ichiro was segregated to Tule
Lake. Moreover, one’s answers to the questionnaire had no effect on one’s
initial eligibility for the draft; the two processes were legally distinct.6

6 Fr ank A be
Okada clearly presents Ichiro’s story as that of a draft resister, one who
says “no” to many things—the draft, a federal judge, his country, his
ancestry, his mother—but not explicitly to the questionnaire.7
It is within this context that John Okada inserts his own persona into
the preface of his novel as the “good Japanese-American,” an army enlisted
man sitting in the belly of a B-24 and thinking “about his friend who didn’t
volunteer for the army because his father had been picked up in the sec-
U

ond screening” after Pearl Harbor. This fictional friend refused the draft
ni

because a judge would not release his father from a Justice Department
internment camp for enemy aliens to rejoin his mother and sisters in a
ve

civilian detention camp. As revealed in my new biography, Okada was


r

drawing here from his own pain and that of his friend Hajime Jim Akutsu,
si

a draft resister. Both their fathers were arrested on February 21, 1942, in
ty

the second round of FBI arrests in Seattle, and both were interned at the
Justice Department camp at Fort Missoula, Montana. Okada petitioned
of

for help to get the US attorney general to release his father from “that
other camp” so he could rejoin his family at the Puyallup detention center
W

because his mother was “an old woman but misses [the father] enough to
want to sleep with him.” In the cinematic dissolve from the preface to
as

chapter 1, as the point-of-view shifts from the soldier in the B-24 to that
of his friend in prison, the author who was a soldier imagined himself in
hi

the shoes of his friend Akutsu who was a resister, and No-No Boy can be
ng

read as the author acting out the script from there.8


But writing in 1957, Okada could take the story only so far. He was
to

unable to provide his protagonist with “a range of viable scripts”9 because


those narratives—whether redress for the constitutional violations of
n

camp or history’s validation of the resisters—would not be written until


Pr

several years after the author’s death in 1971. The first “Day of Remem-
brance” for the camps would not be mounted in Seattle until 1978, and the
e

campaign it sparked for congressional action on redress would not work


ss

its way into law until 1988. There is no evidence that Okada knew of the
organized resistance at Heart Mountain, and it would not be until the new
millennium that books and films (among them my PBS film Conscience
and the Constitution) would expose the false constructions of loyalty and
disloyalty created by the government and enforced by the JACL, and

Introduction 7
frame the principled protest of draft resisters, even loners like Ichiro, as a
classic example of civil disobedience in the American twentieth century.

The Search for John Ok ada


Tragically, John Okada died at the age of forty-seven and never saw his
work find an audience. Worse yet, his distraught widow tossed or burned
U

his work on his unfinished second novel about the Issei. In a now familiar
ni

story, a group of young writers—Frank Chin, Shawn Wong, Lawson


Inada, and Jeffery Chan—found the first edition of Okada’s novel in a
ve

used bookshop in Berkeley just weeks after his death. Three of them flew
r

to Pasadena to interview his widow, Dorothy. As the Combined Asian-


si

American Resources Project, or CARP, they introduced No-No Boy to


ty

the just-emerging field of Asian American studies by including chapter 5


of the novel in Aiiieeeee!, their groundbreaking 1974 anthology of Asian
of

American literature. CARP then republished No-No Boy itself in 1976.


This book descends from that effort. As an original member of Chin’s
W

Asian American Theater Workshop in San Francisco, I had the privilege


of transcribing the two audio cassettes of interviews with Dorothy Okada
as

for the Bancroft Library Regional Oral History Office. I was intrigued by
Dorothy’s description of the first novel’s development and as shocked as
hi

anyone by the loss of the second. I adapted Ichiro’s interior monologues


ng

as audition pieces, even as artist Bob Onodera based his cover art for the
CARP paperback on a photo of me from the theater workshop. Interest
to

in the novel was part of the appeal for me in moving to Seattle, where
David Ishii Bookseller proudly displayed the photo that appears on the
n

cover of this book in his shop in Pioneer Square, mere steps from Okada’s
Pr

birthplace, and where poet Garrett Hongo introduced me to Okada’s


geography: the clock tower of King Street Station, the Wah Mee Club on
e

Maynard Alley, the neon sign over Wonder Bread at 18th and Jackson, and
ss

Okada’s signature scrawled backstage at the Nipponkan Theater. I also


interviewed Okada’s family and friends in the making of a short film.
The search took a new direction when historian Greg Robinson came
to me with material by Okada he had uncovered while scrolling through
microfilm of a postwar Seattle newspaper: five short stories and a one-act

8 Fr ank A be
play. These pieces, most likely started as class exercises, were long rumored
to exist but had disappeared from view. We teamed with literary scholar
Floyd Cheung and uncovered three more works: the youthful poem “I
Must Be Strong,” which escaped notice because it was published anony-
mously, and two long-buried trade journal articles, one appearing under
a pseudonym, in which Okada could not resist inventing fictional char-
acters to satirize wasteful practices in the aerospace industry.
U

Accompanying these primary materials are the first full-length biog-


ni

raphy of Okada and original essays interpreting his work. The biography
reveals new information about the sources of Okada’s inspiration for his
ve

novel and corrects several long-standing errors. Floyd Cheung investi-


r

gates the circumstances and influences behind the creation of Okada’s


si

rediscovered works, and shows the young writer experimenting with


ty

genre a decade before No-No Boy. Greg Robinson’s historical analysis


places No-No Boy within the evolution of writing in the Japanese Ameri-
of

can community. Stephen H. Sumida advances a theory of how the novel’s


protagonist could have been both a draft resister and a no-no boy, in the
W

course of decoding the twisted logic of incarceration and the author’s


intentionally unreliable-narrative point of view. Journalist and researcher
as

Martha Nakagawa speaks for readers long confounded by Ichiro’s inte-


rior monologues, which, by making him appear confused and remorse-
hi

ful, generated resentment among the real resisters. Jeffrey T. Yamashita


ng

reviews two generations of critical literature on No-No Boy, reflecting


shifts in approaches by the academic community. Finally, Shawn Wong
to

shares an insider’s account of the republication of No-No Boy and offers


techniques he’s developed for teaching the novel in class.
n

No-No Boy has sold more than 200,000 copies over twenty-one print-
Pr

ings by Charles Tuttle, CARP, and the University of Washington Press.10


It remains the most-read and most-analyzed novel by a Nisei who spent
e

time in camp, and a foundational work in Asian American studies. With


ss

the benefit of rediscovered works and fresh insights, we hope to open new
avenues for study and place John Okada in context for a new generation.

Introduction 9

Centres d'intérêt liés